A federal judge last week imposed a preliminary injunction against the sale and planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa, effectively removing the transgenic crop as a spring seeding option in much of the country.
The March 12 injunction, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California, states that growers who bought Roundup Ready before that date can go ahead and plant it. But the seed must be in the ground by March 30. Those who plant by that date, and growers with existing Roundup Ready fields, can harvest and feed or market the crop without restriction.
The court order came in response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and others against USDA. The suit claims that USDA violated the National Environmental Protection Act by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement before deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2005. CFS says an environmental impact statement should have addressed a range of issues, including the risk that conventional alfalfa will be contaminated by the Roundup Ready gene and Roundup Ready alfalfa's impact on the development of glyphosate-resistant weeds.
A Monsanto news release issued the same day expressed disappointment. "We are hopeful that a reasoned approach in this matter will address questions about the regulatory approval process for Roundup Ready alfalfa while maintaining farmer access to this beneficial technology," said Jerry Steiner, executive vice president. "The extensive regulatory dossier for Roundup Ready alfalfa, combined with farmer stewardship agreements, provides a robust and responsible approach to managing the environmental questions raised by the plaintiffs in this case."
The judge is scheduled to hear arguments April 27 on whether to make the preliminary injunction permanent. Monsanto, which owns the Roundup Ready patent, and Forage Genetics International, which developed the first Roundup Ready varieties, were granted intervener status in the case on March 8, and will participate in the arguments. If they're able to convince the judge to remove the injunction, Roundup Ready alfalfa could be available in time for late summer and fall seedings this year. If not, it might not be legally sold or planted until sometime after USDA prepares an environmental impact statement.